PR People: Roger Friedensen, APR

By Posted in - PR People & Public Relations on March 8th, 2017

Roger Friedensen, APR

Job Title and Function: I’m a partner and co-founder of Forge Communications, a research and communication strategy firm with offices in Raleigh and Charlotte. Launched in 2009, we’re a small boutique firm comprised of senior-level consultants, so my work is actually doing the work – which I love. We all have held leadership positions in our past lives at agencies, non-profit associations, health systems and corporations, but this time around we wanted to spend our days helping clients solve real problems and produce measurable value rather than building a big firm again and having to “feed the overhead beast.” Been there, done that. 🙂

Most Rewarding thing about working in PR today: For me, it’s what it’s always been: the challenge that comes from helping create order out of chaos and solve complex problems; the opportunity to collaborate with smart, creative, accomplished individuals from whom I can learn; and the chance to do meaningful work that helps our clients — and, in turn, their employees, customers, communities and sectors — accomplish what they want and need to do better and improve lives. It’s also really cool to be working in the middle of one of [if not the most] transformative times in the industry’s history. As a geek and wanna-be futurist, I love the intersection of communications and technology!

Craziest/most challenging thing you’ve done in PR: After 32 years in this business, that could be a reaaaaaaally long list. A couple of items do stand out, though. First, I took a former U.S. Surgeon General, the past president of the American Medical Association, the president and CEO of the second-largest pharmaceutical company on the face of the planet, and about two dozen senior pharma executives to what turned out to be an overly trendy, Yuppie-filled restaurant/hip-hop dance bar in San Francisco’s financial district.

Second, I was once threatened by a county commissioner while on a client’s advance team informing him and his fellow commissioners that their county and three others in North Carolina were on the short list for a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility. “Son, if I were you, I’d get out of this county by high noon. It’s time for us to marshal the troops.” We hit I-40 out of the county right after the meeting.

And finally, I helped one of my colleagues, the great Mike Herman, APR, Fellow PRSA of blessed memory, manage a “unique” crisis situation for one of our clients, Austin Nichols. I’ll let the Wikipedia entry speak for itself: “On May 9, 2000, a fire destroyed a seven-story aging warehouse at the company in Anderson County, Kentucky. It contained more than 17,000 wooden barrels of whiskey. Burning whiskey flowed from the warehouse, setting the woods on fire, causing limestone deposits to explode. Firefighters saved Lawrenceburg’s water treatment plant from destruction. However, an estimated 20% of the whiskey flowed into the Kentucky River. The river contamination required the temporary shutdown of the water treatment plant. Officials ordered water usage restrictions. Businesses and schools were closed because of the water shortage. The alcohol spill also depleted the oxygen in the river, killing an estimated 228,000 fish along a 66-mile stretch. The EPA and the Coast Guard’s Gulf Strike Team aerated the river using equipment mounted on barges. The company paid $256,000 to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife in an effort to restore the fish population in the river.”

Yep. That’s right. More than 180,000 gallons of prime Wild Turkey bourbon made its way into the Kentucky River in the middle of the night, forming a mile-long plume of whiskey that wiped the river clean. The plume didn’t dissipate until it reached the Ohio River.You just can’t make this stuff up.

Advice for new PR pros:

Tip #1: Stay unquenchably inquisitive.
Tip #2: Recognize that “PR” does not mean the same to folks outside of the profession as inside. Understand that to remain relevant (i.e., employable) your perspective and skill set — not to mention your reading and professional development — must be broader than “traditional” public relations practice (media relations, special events and the like). Our business is about clarifying and strengthening communication between individuals. Public relations, marketing, advertising, content management, etc. — those are just different colored lenses we can use to evaluate a problem and figure out a solution.
Tip #3: Learn and practice good manners. They make a difference.
Tip #4: Don’t be lazy, greedy, rude, stupid or unethical. I really shouldn’t have to say this.
Tip #5: Don’t be lazy, greedy, rude, stupid or unethical. I really shouldn’t have to repeat this.
Tip #6: Learn to read the tea leaves and connect the dots. This business is not simply about connecting people; it’s about seeing the linkages among ideas, trends, issues, opportunities, people and organizations and making meaningful connections.
Tip #7: Get out of your own head and your own world regularly so you can be better able to put yourself in others’ shoes.
Tip #8: Learn to ask questions.
Tip #9: Learn to ask smart questions.
Tip #10: Learn to ask smarter questions.

Bonus Tip: Learn how to write, speak and, the most important, listen successfully. But then again, that’s good advice for pretty much everybody.

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Sarah Hattman, APR is president-elect for the North Carolina chapter of Public Relations Society of America and has been working in PR since she left television news. She grew up in North Carolina and was excited to move back to her home state in 2012 and then join Clairemont Communications, a Raleigh PR agency. 





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